Saturday, May 31, 2014

Suspiria (1977)

The Movie: American ballerina Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper of Phantom of the Paradise and, much later, Minority Report) travels to Germany to attend the prestigious Tanz Akademie in Freiburg. If you’re the type who believes in omens, her arrival at the airport presages very bad things. Just walking out of the airport subjects the poor girl to an ominous thunderstorm and a rudely aloof and uncommunicative taxi driver. However, it’s at the school where Suzy’s problems really start; because just as her taxi pulls up to the school, a girl (Eva Axen) runs out the door in fear, shouts something to an unseen person on the intercom, and flees into the forest. When Suzy tries to enter the school, the person on the intercom says that she doesn’t recognize her and refuses to let her in. Meanwhile, the fleeing girl, who we later find out is named Pat Hingle, spends the night with a friend with the intention of leaving forever in the morning. However, Pat’s friend’s apartment isn’t any protection against what Pat is fleeing from; that night a mysterious someone or something enters and brutally murders both women.

The next day Suzy returns to the school, where she is told by the dance instructor Miss Tanner (Alida Valli of Eyes Without a Face) that she was expected the night before. Also present is Madam Blanc (Joan Bennett of the original Father of the Bride, believe it or not), the vice-directress, who is discussing the murder of Pat Hingle with some police officers, explaining that the girl was kicked out just yesterday. Suzy quickly finds the staff to be weird and sinister, and the students range from eccentric to, quite possibly, downright insane. Events such as the sudden plague of maggots in the girls’ dorms, and Suzy’s strange sickness and collapse in the dance studio really don’t help matters much.

Suzy finally starts to get some information when she is befriended by Sara (actor and director Stefania Casini of Blood for Dracula). Sara has been noticing some weird things about the school. What’s more, she was friends with Pat Hingle, who also learned some weird things just before she was murdered; and Sara was also the woman on the intercom box the night Suzy arrived. It gradually becomes clear that some powerful evil lurks at the school; and when Sara gets killed, Suzy realizes that she has to figure out what’s going on if she doesn’t want to be next…

The Review:

Dear Readers, this blog has now been up and running for four years! Now, I confess that in recent months I have been slacking off on the entries, for reasons legitimate and not so much; I must apologize for that. However, as I’ve done every year, I feel the need to express my gratitude to those of you who have been reading this blog up to this point; and my sincere welcome and condolences for the inevitable fate of your immortal soul for those of you who are reading this for the first time. Thank you and welcome all!

Confession time Dear Readers: I had to watch Dario Argento’s Suspiria three or four times before I was able to understand why so many people consider it his magnum opus; and indeed, a true classic of the genre. At this point I am of the opinion that Suspiria is a true work of art, as well as a very effective horror movie. However, I will add the caveat that if you’re used to conventional, Hollywood-style movie structure, you may be in for a rough slog.

European movies made during this time, particularly Italian cinema, had a tendency to employ style over substance; imagery and emotion in place of logic or plot cohesion. At its worst, the results of this kind of moviemaking are frustrating and unintelligible. However, at its best the end product rises above a mere movie to be watched, instead becoming an experience to be lived.

As you’ve no doubt guess from my opening paragraph, Suspiria falls into the latter category. The moment Suzy walks off the plane at the beginning; she steps into a waking nightmare and drags us in the audience along with her. Argento does everything he can to play up the sense of unreality, and as a result the lack of logic and plot cohesion enhances the movie rather than detracting from it.

The architecture and décor we see throughout most of the movie is truly beautiful; but at the same time it is quietly foreboding and off. Argento uses a primary color palette, which throws the décor into stark relief; and for some scenes he employs color filters that further enhance the atmosphere. Then there’s the soundtrack, in particular three numbers that are the background music for nearly the entire movie. They are odd, discordant pieces that really don’t work outside Suspiria (as proved by a music video on my special edition DVD), but in the context of the movie are a large part of what establishes the atmosphere and makes it so effective.

The final notable reason for why the film works so well is how Argento, for the most part, tends to eschew traditional horror movie plot elements. Admittedly, there are two or three brutal murders, and the two we see at the beginning are as nasty a horror movie death scene as you could ask for. However, afterwards he tends to employ plot elements that focus more on the unnatural evil of the villains than the deaths themselves. The death of the blind piano player is more atmospheric than brutal, as he’s stalked by something unseen through the empty nighttime streets only to die by a completely unexpected agent. Personally, the maggot scene always causes me to cringe, and the scene where Suzy falls sick and collapses while dancing is one that I find very identifiable. Admittedly, that last one probably owes much to my own medical experiences; but it’s still very well done.

So in conclusion, Suspiria is less a conventional horror movie than a living nightmare on celluloid. There is little logic to much that goes on, but that actually enhances greatly the general feeling of unreality. If you’re interested in a truly great work of horror movie art, and can deal with the fact that it doesn’t follow what most of us consider a traditional plot, make sure you see this one.

One-Eyed Monster (2008)

The Movie: Ten people, including veteran porn stars Ron Jeremy and Veronica Hart (playing themselves), head up into the Northern California mountains to make an adult film. All the weather predictions indicate that a huge blizzard is going to hit them, so the cast and crew are pretty much resigned to being snowed in for the weekend. However, that’s only a small part of what they’re going to have to deal with.

That night, when Ron goes outside for some fresh air between takes, a weird, glowing light falls out of the sky. It heads straight for Ron, and hits him head on. Ron heads back inside feeling a little ill, but the real problems begin when they start rolling again. Suddenly, Ron starts spasming uncontrollably, then collapses and dies. When the crew checks his body, they find that a rather important part is missing; his penis. A check of the film reveals that it seems to have detached it itself from his body and wondered off.

The detached organ very quickly proves itself to be deadly. It seems that some alien force hijacked it, and is using the body part for some nefarious plan. What’s worse, it’s quick to kill whoever gets in its way. Trapped by the blizzard, the surviving cast and crew try to figure a way to trap and destroy the organ. However, this is no ordinary detached, alien-possessed penis, this detached, alien-possessed penis used to belong to Ron Jeremy; who was known for having the biggest and strongest one in the industry…

The Review:

I have a theory. It’s a little way-out, but I saw a dick scurry out of a tailpipe today so I’m willing to consider just about everything.

I’m in the habit of watching the movie previews on my DVDs, and that’s how I discovered this particular little gem. Said preview showed what, at first, appeared to be yet another generic spam in a cabin movie; a small group of people are trapped in an isolated location with a murderous creature, individual or force. However, my interest grew when I realized that this particular group was the cast and crew for and ‘adult’ film, and that the monster was a detached penis possessed by an alien force. The title, One-Eyed Monster, just cemented things; for obvious reasons, I had to see this movie. If the reasons aren’t obvious to you, you must be new to this blog. That’s okay, just take some time to go through some of my older reviews and you’ll get it. Thanks for reading, by the way; it’s good to have you.

I should probably start by disabusing my readers of the idea that One-Eyed Monster is in any way a pornographic movie. Simply put, it’s not. There’s barely any nudity or (implied) sex, the ‘porn’ elements are only plot devices, and the ‘monster’ is obviously special effects. At least, I hope it is. One-Eyed Monster is, at its core, a spam in a cabin flick. For the most part it hits all the usual notes of that subgenre, but there are some interesting exceptions.

One of the two main exceptions is the who and how of the monster’s victims. There are a few exceptions (flaming asshole characters always get it in these movies, it’s just a question of when), but for the most part we don’t know beforehand who will live and who will die. The black guy doesn’t get it first, there’s no wacky practical joker to attempt a prank on the wrong person, and ironically (or maybe not, considering who the characters are), how sexual an individual is has no relevance on their life expectancy. On the one hand, we get a sense of suspense absent from the survival horror flicks where it’s obvious from the beginning who has the big target on their ass. On the other, the whole character’s sex life not having any relevance on their life expectancy means that this movie lacks the judgmental “they deserved it” attitude we find in so many horror movies; which I, personally, find refreshing.

The other main exception is this movie’s sense of humor. One-Eyed Monster is a funny movie; and what’s more, it’s intentionally funny. No movie where everyone isn’t in on the joke would have a scene like the one where the first victim’s roommate comes running in screaming “Angel has a dick in her mouth!”, and then has to add “there’s no one attached it” when her first pronouncement is met with indifference. The whole premise of the movie is ridiculous; as is the how our heroes first try to destroy the monster and how they finally succeed. There are many hilarious lines of dialogue and one-liners, my particular favorite being the conversation between Jeremy and the bus driver at the beginning of the movie.

But here’s the thing, it’s all played straight. One-Eyed monster is obviously meant as a spoof, but all the most ridiculous scenes and lines are played either completely deadpan, or with tongue slightly in cheek. Personally, this is why I find it so funny. These days, ‘spoof’ or ‘parody’ in a movie means playing every joke up in a way that practically screams “look how funny we are! See, this is the joke, this is where you laugh.” I know humor is a subjective thing, but I find it really doesn’t work for me. That way just drips with desperation. The main reason One-Eyed Monster works so well is because they don’t take that route. Everyone’s obviously in on the joke, but nobody is actively treating it like one.

Personally, I’m not big on watching porn; largely due to the fact that watching other people screw bores me to tears. As a result, I’m not all that familiar with Ron Jeremy. I’ve heard the name here and there; and I’ve seen him in cameos in a few other movies I’ve watched, albeit without having a clue of who he was. However, the thing is that I am fascinated by porn as a subject. It’s one of those incredibly controversial subjects that is bound to make people react; even just saying the word porn. While I’m not big on actually watching porn, the fact that it is considered so taboo makes it fascinating for me; which is why I found Jeremy one of the most fascinating parts of this movie.

Ron Jeremy and Veronica Hart are long-time veterans of the porn industry, and they have worked together a very large number of times. Both of these things are very clear in how they carry themselves in the movie. With our first look at them on the bus ride up, it’s clear that these two share a bond. Likewise, when they talk about how the industry has changed, or especially, in the scene where they’re commiserating about how they don’t get any respect anymore, it all seems real in a way that doesn’t require any suspension of disbelief. This authenticity helps ground the movie so that when the more ridiculous elements first show up, they’re much easier to accept. I’d also like to add that there is a feature on the DVD where Jeremy and Hart just sit down and discuss their experiences in the industry, which I, personally, found interesting.

The other individual who caught my eye was Amber Benson as Laura the makeup girl. Benson is fairly prolific these days; not just as an actor, but also as a director, producer, author, scriptwriter, and probably a few other things. Sadly, I mostly know her from her role in the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I found Benson’s character to another one of the more interesting parts of the movie. Laura is a socially awkward young woman who nurses a major crush on Jeremy. The thing is Hollywood rarely gets socially awkward right, usually just making the character situationally clumsy and passing that off as awkward. Speaking as a socially awkward individual who has dealt with many others throughout my life, social awkwardness can best be defined thusly: you’re not playing by the expected script. As we grow up we tend to absorb certain expectations about others’ behavior, a script if you will. And it’s not just big things either; most of it consists of little things that should be pointless. Social awkwardness comes in when you or somebody else isn’t behaving by the expectations of those around you. The reasons why vary; it could be because you have a completely different script (such as mentioning to those who don’t get it how and why a somewhat well-adjusted individual might enjoy movies about detached, alien possessed penises), it could be you just have trouble knowing what is expected of you (this is often my problem), or it could be that you just don’t care.

Anyway, Benson as Laura establishes that social awkwardness perfectly and believably. Admittedly, in the other role I know her from; she did socially awkward just as well. However, in Buffy Benson did a kind of cute, lovable, social awkwardness; here she does it with a touch of creepiness. And again, it’s convincing; socially awkward people so often come off as creepy because you don’t know what to expect of them, as they aren’t playing by the expected rules. In short, I found Benson’s Laura to be a convincing character, one I’ve had to deal with (and even been) all too often.

So in conclusion, it’s pretty obvious that I thoroughly enjoyed One-Eyed Monster. The fact that a movie with this premise even got made deserves major kudos; that it turned out so well even more so. If you’re a certain type of person, and you know who you are, this movie is a must see.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Rock n' Roll Nightmare (1987)

The Movie: At an isolated Canadian farmhouse; mysterious, demonic forces suddenly appear and slaughter a family of three. After standing unused for ten years, some new occupants arrive. John Triton (body builder, b-movie actor and front man for various heavy metal groups John-Mikl Thor), and his hair metal group the Tritonz, have come for an extended stay to create material for a new album and hopefully get themselves out of the slump they’ve found themselves in. Triton’s reasoning is that they’re away from all the distractions of civilization; although apparently Toronto, a center of culture, is just down the road. The rest of the group isn’t so enthusiastic. They include: Stig (Jim Cirile), is the asshole drummer, who has brought his uber-bitch girlfriend Lou Anne (Jillian Peri). Lead guitarist Roger Eburt (Frank Dietz) has brought his new wife Mary (Liane Abel), and they are using this as their honeymoon. Nerdy bassist Max (David Lane) and Dee Dee (Denise Dicandia), the only female band member, have been making eyes at each other, but so far been too shy to do anything about it. Rounding out the group are Randy (Teresa Simpson), Triton’s seemingly perpetually unsatisfied girlfriend, and Phil (Adam Fried, uncredited), the geeky, nebbish manager for the band. You know, I’m no musician, but I already see two or three problems with this setup; and they have nothing to do with the demonic forces infesting the house. Nevertheless, we’ll go with it for now.

The Tritonz settle in, but almost immediately get set upon by the demons. One by one, unnoticed by anyone else until it’s too late, the Tritonz and their paramours get killed and/or possessed. However, not all is what it appears to be, and John Triton has a few surprises of his own…

The Review:

Yes… that’s where I’ve seen that nerdy bass player."

I’m not going to sugar coat this, Rock ‘n Roll Nightmare is a terrible movie in almost every particular. Written and produced by, not to mention starring, John-Mikl Thor; this movie is obviously an amateur project with a microscopic budget, with everything that entails. However, it is also a movie that I get a lot of enjoyment from; and that I make a point of rewatching every so often.

The script is full of horror movie clichés, inconsistencies, and plot holes you could drive a truck through. For example, the farmhouse and grounds look rather well maintained after ten years of abandonment; and if it was abandoned that long, how the hell was a recording studio set up in the barn, much less one where people like Alice Cooper have worked? The characters, like any group of slasher movie meat, are completely oblivious to what’s going on around them until it’s too late. In fact, also like in the majority of slasher movies since 1980, for the most part they seem to mainly be motivated by the goal of getting into each other’s pants.

Added to this is the typical amateur lack of pacing. Just after the beginning credits we get an overly long scene of the band’s van driving to the farmhouse. Seriously, we just see the van driving while music plays. And speaking of music, this was actually Thor’s band at the time, and there are at least two or three full performances of some of their songs. It’s definitely not great music, to say the least. Having said that, I’m not ashamed to admit that I got a hold of the movie’s soundtrack when I found that it was available, and that I still can’t get enough of the song played over the final battle. Take that, good taste!

The effects are obviously very low budget, consisting of rubbery monster masks, the kind of makeup you can buy around Halloween, and some crude puppetry. One of my personal favorite parts of this movie is the extremely phallic, demonic sock puppets (that’s honestly the best way I can describe them) that seem to make up the majority of the minions of darkness, and that I, personally, find way too cute to be in any way scary or threatening. The question of the gore effects can be answered with the question ‘what gore effects?’ Nearly all the deaths are off-screen, and even the one or two that we do see make it clear that this project didn’t have the money for a proper horror movie death scene.

The acting talents on display range from slim to none. There are a (very) few exceptions, which I will get to shortly, but overall these really aren’t actors. Rock ‘n Roll Nightmare tries to compensate with everybody’s favorite exploitation movie fallback; gratuitous nudity. Unfortunately, these are, overall, people you really don’t want to see naked. I’m sure there are quite a few women, and even some men, who would greatly appreciate some of the scenes of Thor. However, as a straight male with very definite aesthetic preferences, it doesn’t do anything for me.

So why do I get so much enjoyment out of this movie if it’s so terrible? Two reasons. The first is the ending. I am not going to spoil it for you, but the climax of the movie makes the rest of it worthwhile. The big surprise twist is just weird, inspired, and batshit enough to make up for all the crap leading up to it; and it actually provides a logical (within the plot) explanation for all the overused horror movie tropes and a number (though by no means all) of the plot holes and discrepancies. The climactic battle that follows pulls out all the stops on the crappy special effects. There are a lot of reviews online that will spoil the twist for you, that happened to me before I saw it, but they really won’t do a thing. This is one of those things that has to be seen to be believed, and being told beforehand won’t prepare you for it.

The other major element that Rock n’ Roll Nightmare has going for it, despite all of its shortcomings, is John-Mikl Thor himself. He’s not a great actor by any stretch, but his unfeigned enthusiasm for the project shines through whenever he’s on screen. I learned young that when an artist of any kind is truly enjoying his work, that, more often than not, goes a long way toward covering for any deficiencies said work might otherwise have. I would argue that Rock n’ Roll Nightmare serves as concrete proof of that simple fact.

Alongside Thor’s enthusiasm, a look at the time in which this movie was made puts it in a very different light. The U.S. in the late 1980s saw something which many people know as ‘the Satanic Panic’. Basically, Right-wing extremism combined with residual Cold War paranoia, irresponsible shock journalism, and no doubt some other elements as well, to give way too many people the idea that a conspiracy (or more) of literal devil worshippers was working to subvert and destroy our society. As is always the case in these matters, just about every form of youthful nonconformity became a target of zealous moral crusaders.

I was in second grade come 1990, so I only had any personal experience with the tail end of the Panic. My own experiences were moving out to a small town in rural Idaho and discovering that my beloved hobby of Dungeons and Dragons was considered by many to be a form of Satanism. I spent much of my early adolescence looking for that one role-playing game I kept hearing about that would lead me to practicing black magic, devil worship, and deviant sex acts. Not for the first time in my life, or the last, my hopes were raised up only to be cruelly dashed. Now, in my early 30s, I remain an enthusiastic tabletop RPG geek (although contrary to popular stereotype, I do have a place of my own and a social life outside of gaming); but I have long had to accept the fact that, as with so many other important issues, the Right lied to me.

However, the main target for these moral crusaders was probably the music genre of heavy metal. From the very beginning the rock genre, and more blatantly so, its heavy metal offshoot, has been all about rebellion and tweaking those in authority. However, when the moral panic hit way too many people decided that heavy metal was, quite literally, the Devil’s music. The late ‘80s saw community record burnings, rumors about subliminal messages hidden in the albums, and Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest actually getting sued for their music causing fans to commit suicide (I’ve been a Judas Priest fan for roughly a decade, nothing yet). It culminated in Tipper Gore, the wife of former vice-president and president elect, Al Gore, actually holding senate hearings to control this “dangerous” music. Among other things, she’s the reason albums always have those ridiculous parental advisory stickers these days.

Looked at within the framework of its time period, it’s clear that Rock ‘n Roll Nightmare was made with the specific purpose of refuting all these accusations the genre faced. Just look at our heavy metal protagonists: We have a married couple who’s trying to balance their new married life with his job in the band. We have a pair of band-mates who obviously have a thing for each other, but thus far have been too shy to do anything about it. One gets the impression that the manager specifically became a manger because he’s always been a fan and wanted to be involved in the action despite his personal lack of musical talent. Yeah, Stig and Lou Anne are assholes; but they’re the exact kind of asshole you’re going to encounter no matter what social circle you’re a part of. Lack of acting talent gets in the way somewhat, but this is still the impression the movie gets across to us. I know it’s boring compared to the popular fantasies involving drug-fueled orgies with groupies, but it’s probably a lot more realistic. Finally, we are given a front man who’s enthusiasm, despite his limited acting talent, requires no suspension of disbelief whatsoever, for the very simple reason that it’s not acting. Add to this the fact that Satan himself is the villain behind the horrors (that’s not a spoiler), and that the climactic final battle pits him against a heavy metal front man, and you get a clear idea of the argument this movie was trying to make.

So in conclusion, Rock n’ Roll Nightmare is a pretty terrible movie in nearly all particulars, and definitely not for everyone. However, there are some us who really like terrible movies; I wouldn’t have been inspired to write this blog if that wasn’t the case. Finally, Thor’s genuine and clearly visible enthusiasm for the project and that innovatively batshit twist and climax at the end raise this movie from being merely forgettably terrible into something memorably terrible; and even, for some of us, well worth watching.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Girly (1970)

The Movie: Mumsy (Ursula Howells), Nanny (Pat Heywood), Sonny (Howard Trevor) and Girly (Vanessa Howard) are a happy family who live in a large manor house in the countryside. However, they get lonely for outside company, so oftentimes Sonny and Girly go out to more populated areas to pick up ‘New Friends’ and bring them home. Once they get them home, the men are given the “proper” outfit (a school uniform, Sonny and Girly also wear them), and compelled to play the Game.

And what is ‘the Game?’ you ask. Well, it’s never satisfactorily defined; but overall it seems to involve playing along with the charade of being an actual new friend to the children of a Happy Family. Much of this involves actual children’s games, albeit often with a nasty twist to them. Also, there are Rules. If you break a Rule, you are punished. If you break too many; or worse, try to escape, you are “sent to the angels.”

Our real story begins when Sonny and Girly find their newest New Friend (Michael Bryant) leaving a party with a female “friend” (Imogen Hassall). New Friend is drunk off his gourd, and after one look at Girly he is more than happy to follow her and her brother to the local playground for games. Sonny and Girly arrange for the lady’s death; and when New Friend wakes up, hung over, they convince him that he killed her. Having something extra to hold over his head, the family inducts him into the Game.

However, once he’s gotten the lay of the land, New Friend starts to speculate on how he might escape. It starts when we discover that Mumsy has another use for some of the men brought in, and New Friend finds that Nanny is jealous of the arrangement. When he seduces Girly, that brings her jealousies into the mix; and New Friend sees a way that he can play the women against each other. Then Sonny, left out of the sexual politics, sees what’s going on and decides that this New Friend has to go…

The Review:

Nasty Nanny is no good! Chop her up for firewood! When she’s dead, boil her head, make it into gingerbread!

If you, dear reader, are unfortunate enough to have grown up thinking a real horror movie means splatters of blood and graphic scenes of torture and dismemberment, than I am afraid you will find the movie Girly rather dull. The usual features craved by your contemporary gorehound are nowhere in evidence here. While horrible things do happen, most of the violence is off-screen; and what we do see is not very graphic at all. The sex is mostly just hinted at, and we really don’t get to see much of Girly beyond her pretty face and lovely legs. In short, this is not just a crude exploitation flick.

However, Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly, as it was originally released in its native Britain, quickly became very controversial with the critics. In all honesty it’s fairly obvious to see why, especially if you consider the moral panic of the time; Girly is an extremely disturbing movie on multiple levels. Just the basic setup, which takes a societal ideal and turns it into something nightmarishly twisted, is enough to make you cringe and probably to send most moral crusaders into a lather.

Sonny and Girly, who we are introduced to right off the bat, are just plain wrong. They’re obviously in their twenties; but they look, talk, and act exactly like children. And it doesn’t seem at all like mockery or façade; they very convincingly have the mentalities of children as well. When we are shown their home life, the impression is that of a young family that has been artificially, and imperfectly, frozen in a single place of development while the rest of the world moves on around them.

In the pecking order of this group Mumsy is the top of the heap, and she is a particularly petty tyrant about it. Mumsy always gets her way; ‘I’m the Mumsy’ is how she ends all arguments and disagreements. Nobody is allowed to outdo Mumsy at anything; there are scenes where she is crocheting with Nanny or Girly, and she reminds them that they aren’t allowed to work faster or do more work than her. Mumsy is also very obviously one of those authority figures who feel that the rules apply to everyone but her; as shown in some of her arguments with Nanny.

To my mind, the best scene of disturbing foreshadowing for what is to come is when we are shown the house’s second floor, where the New Friends are kept, for the first time. It’s very subtly and effectively done; there’s nothing the characters or the camera do that actively draws attention to it, but if you look you’ll notice in the background that all the doors are boarded up. It’s unsettling, and provides a great build-up for later when we see what happens to New Friends who fail to live up to their ‘hosts’’ expectations. There is one particular scene in all this that I’m sure was what inspired the most famous scene in Stanly Kubrick’s the Shining. I’m not going to say what it is, as it’s been copied and parodied so many times in pop culture that you most likely know it even if you’ve never seen that particular movie.

Vanessa Howard steals the movie as the titular Girly. In fact, it is for that reason that when the movie was released in the United States, the ad campaign focused entirely on her. Girly is such a delightfully twisted character; a complex mixture of seductiveness, innocent childishness, and dangerous psychosis all rolled into one. Howard does an impressive juggling act with the character, making her at times sympathetic, at times desirable, and at times downright terrifying.

There is one aspect of her character that I find particularly intriguing. That aspect is her sexuality; and no, it’s not what you’re thinking. From the very beginning Girly shows a deep understanding of how to make men salivate. When the movie first came out the British censors latched onto one scene early in the film in particular, where Sonny gives Girly a piece of candy that she sucks aggressively, which suggests an incestual relationship between the two of them. However, the scenes where New Friend seduces her, and her subsequent reaction to it, suggests something completely different.

In short, when it finally comes down to it, Girly gives the impression of having no real first-hand (or maybe even second-hand) knowledge of sex at all. I, personally, find this an even more disturbing implication than the one earlier in the movie. The suggestion that a young woman of this age is almost completely ignorant of this pivotal element of life further drives home the point of just how broken this individual really is. It also suggests a vulnerability that’s a bit surprising after all we’ve seen so far. However, it contrasts in a rather frightening way with the rest of her established characteristics. Girly may be vulnerable to this New Friend’s seductions, but the fact that she really doesn’t understand any kind of healthy human interaction means that it’s going to produce some extremely unhealthy reactions. This is borne out by the extreme ways she starts reacting the threats members of her family pose to her new relationship.

And that brings us to our protagonist, the latest New Friend. I hesitate to call him a hero, for reasons that make him, for me, among the most fascinating elements of this movie. In all honesty, once he gets over being a victim and starts making his own plans to deal with his situation, I find him to be every bit as repulsive and amoral, in his own way, as his captors. However, the thing that makes him so fascinating for me is that it is exactly these undesirable qualities that he needs to survive. He has to be manipulative and amoral to be able to survive playing his captors at their own game, and then dragging them into a game of his devising where he has the advantage. If he was in any way moral or ethical, there’s no way he’d survive for very long.

I have to wonder if this is what really bothered the censors, if only on an unconscious level. While horror of any kind was never popular among them; up until only a few years before Girly came out it was always the innocent, the virtuous, and the morally upright who were able to survive and defeat the horror. If you’re used to that kind of atmosphere a movie like Girly, where the only way to survive is to become every bit as bad as the villains, if not worse, is bound to be shocking. I’m not saying Girly was in any way a first or a game-changer, I don’t know enough to make that claim; but it was definitely a sign of the changes in mindset of the younger generation. The ambiguous ending, where we’re left with no clear winner and only a few suggestive hints of who might come out on top, was probably particularly frustrating for those who wanted a neat, tidy conclusion to their movies.

So to sum it up, Girly is a very well made and immersive character study of a truly screwed-up situation. It’s not in any way graphic; but I found the psychological games and torture far more disquieting than I probably would have found graphic depictions of mutilation. If nothing else, this is a movie that I found gave me something to think about, which is something I always treasure.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

They Live (1988)

The Movie: A drifter from Colorado (wrestler Roddy Piper of Hell Comes to Frogtown), who we never actually hear the name of but whom the movie credits call “Nada”, wanders into Los Angeles looking for work. As he explains to the lady at the unemployment office, construction in his neck of the woods dried up with the economic problems, and he has a family to support. Unfortunately, even here work is incredibly hard to find. However, he eventually finds a construction site willing to take on new employees.

It says a lot about the economy that Nada is far from the only homeless worker on the site. Fortunately for him, however, he is quickly befriended by Frank (Keith David of the Thing and Pitch Black), another worker, who leads him to a shantytown run by a community activist named Gilbert (Peter Jason of In the Mouth of Madness). However, once he’s there he starts to notice some strange things. There’s a blind preacher (Raymond St. Jacques) in the park exhorting the locals to wake up to the evil in their midst; but the way he speaks makes it sound like far more than just your typical theological evils. Later at the campsite, when the residents are trying to watch television, the broadcast is hacked by a man (John Lawrence) speaking dire warnings about mind control and those in power. His warnings aren’t too different from those given by the blind preacher Nada saw; in fact, Nada notices said preacher standing in back and talking along with the broadcast word for word.

Nada has also noticed that Gilbert and his associates spend a lot of time at an old church across from the shantytown; and among other things, choir practice seems to go on until the wee hours of the morning. Curious, he investigates and finds that something’s not quite right. The choir is actually just a recording being played over speakers, and the rest of the church’s interior is given over to equipment to send pirate broadcasts and make, something. Nada doesn’t have enough time to check the contents of all the boxes, but he manages to hide one away for later. It’s a good thing that he does; the church’s inhabitants seem to have attracted some kind of official attention and that night a horde of policeman raid the area. They strip the church bare, level the shantytown, and beat the living snot out of everyone they can get their hands on; terminally in the case of most of those associated with the church.

The next day Nada retrieves the box he stashed and looks inside. He’s puzzled to find nothing but sunglasses. However, it’s when he puts the glasses on that he’s really stepped in it. The glasses drain all color out of the world and show that a lot is going on that Nada has never even suspected. Everywhere there are subliminal messages like “work, marry, reproduce,” “no free thought,” and “stay asleep.” Devices for further enforcing said messages, as well as general observation, are also everywhere. Worst of all, Nada notices that certain people, namely the ones with obvious wealth and power, aren’t actually people, but hideous, ghoulish looking beings. Unfortunately, Nada lets slip that he can see what’s really going on, and winds up on the run for mass murder. He manages to get Frank to see it as well, and the two men go looking for answers and a way to fight back.

The Review:

They're free-enterprisers. The earth is just another developing planet. Their third world.”

For some reason, lately I’ve been wanting to see some really good 1980s satire that does feel dated. Unfortunately for that ambition, this movie ain’t it. Even now, over twenty years after it was made, They Live feels entirely current and relevant; the only exceptions to this being a few hair and fashion styles that we see.

John Carpenter made They Live to show his disgust at the political and economic results of the Reagan Era, results that have only grown worse as time goes on. The aliens present a metaphor for the relatively small handful of the uber-rich who have been working since that time, all too successfully, to dismantle the middle class and claim everything for themselves. And, through near complete control of the media, they’re able to essentially keep everyone “asleep” while they do it.

The economic hard times the characters are dealing with are the recession that came at the end of the 1980s due to the popping of the latest financial bubble. Sound familiar? These things are far from uncommon in our history, and always end up the same way. Another thing that rings true is how the desperation of the times serves those in power. Note how our heroes start out so desperate to get by that they do their best to ignore what’s going on even when it’s blatantly suspicious. Nada’s “I still believe in America” speech, Frank’s insistence that Nada “let it alone” whenever he points out something peculiar; these are people who’ve lost so much already, that they’re willing to do just about anything to hold on to what little they’ve got.

Another aspect of the movie that should seem all too familiar if you pay attention is the subliminal messages our hero notices. With the exception of one message lifted from the original short story (“Work 8 Hours, Sleep 8 Hours, Play 8 Hours”), one of the few aspects of They Live that does feel dated, the subliminal message our hero notices are all message that are constantly being thrown at us, even if we don’t notice them consciously; and even in the contexts through which Carpenter depicts them. “Conform” and “Obey”; everyone, from politicians to corporations, is constantly urging us to go along with the crowd and preying on our insecurities about fitting in. Also, it’s come to my attention that ever since 2001 American flags have been a lamentable inevitability in just about any kind of advertisement; the point, of course, playing upon one’s sense of patriotism and suggesting that buying said project, whether it be a politician or an insurance plan, is aiding the country (and that if you don’t buy it you’re a Bolshevik weenie). “Buy Stuff”; that’s the message all advertisements send. I can’t even go on line anymore without a buttload of popups telling me I need to shell out my money for something because I cannot possibly live without it. “Stay Asleep”; so much of our “news” is actually propaganda or distraction. I guess “Watch Television” falls under that as well.

Then there’s the part where Nada looks at some cash through the sunglasses and sees the message “This is Your God.” In a nutshell, I think this sums up the issues that Carpenter is putting on display here, and so much of what is wrong with America in general. If the U.S. does have a state religion, it would have to be the worship of Mammon. Think about it, money is pretty much the be-all and end-all of all the goals we are supposed to set for ourselves; and the basis by which we are taught to judge people. It’s also the basis of all our wars, whatever the official justification is. Seriously, read some history, nearly all of our wars in the past century or so have been fought because of some financial interest or other. And worst of all, having an obscene amount of money ensures that you can get away with just about anything. I’d get arrested for trying to bribe a politician, but these large corporations can get away with giving them large amounts of money to vote a certain way and calling them “campaign contributions.” Likewise, there’s something very wrong with major financial institutions being able to commit capital crimes, hurt a lot of people, nearly destroy the economy, and yet still successfully demand handouts and tax cuts from the government. A while back I came to the conclusion that Nine Inch Nails’ Head Like a Hole is a far more appropriate national anthem than the Star-Spangled Banner; and I don’t think I’ll be changing my opinion on that anytime soon.

Finally, there are several scenes that just look prescient; although it’s probably more due to the fact that history goes in cycles and the human race keeps making the same damn mistakes over and over again. The scene where the police are leveling the camp bears a very strong resemblance to stories I’ve seen on the news about the police dealing with the Occupy movement. When Nada and Frank stumble upon a fancy dinner where one of the aliens is addressing all the wealthy human collaborators, it could be a fundraiser given by the Koch Brothers, Mitch Romney, or any one of the all too many demagogues for the Cult of the Free Market. And when Nada sees a politician on T.V. who’s actually one of the aliens, the speech he gives sounds way too familiar.

There is one major flaw in They Live. Halfway through, the movie changes tone completely and suddenly becomes another big, dumb action movie. This puzzled me the first time I saw it, but in a recent review from El Santo of the site 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting he points out that it’s John Carpenter’s satirizing of the action films of the period. After reading that, it made more sense when I saw it again; and I will confess that some of it is very clever. Unfortunately, the action elements go against the tone set by the first half of the film. The aliens fall too easily, and the conclusion feels forced. This undercuts much of the sense of creepy paranoia the movie builds up on at the start.

Overall, though, They Live is still worth seeing. Excepting the tone change it is very well made. More so, it has a very important message that has only become more relevant in twenty-something years since it came out. So do yourself a favor and watch this movie; then put on the sunglasses and take a good, hard look at the world.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972)

The Movie: Virginia (Maria Elena Arpon, credited here as Helen Harp) is out swimming one day when she runs into Betty (Lone Fleming), who she was friends with at school. Virginia introduces Betty to Roger (Cesar Burner), the man she has recently started seeing, and the troubles begin. Betty and Roger are obviously attracted to each other from the beginning, and his relationship with Virginia is still in the early stages. In fact, Roger insists to Betty that he doesn’t have anything serious with Virginia and invites her to join them the next day on the weekend they’ll be taking in the countryside. This, of course, makes Virginia even more uncomfortable. On the train, while Virginia is thinking about her time in school with Betty, a flashback reveals to us in the audience that the two girls have a more than platonic history. So, is Virginia jealous of Betty for Roger? Roger for Betty? Both? Does she even know? If this were a different movie Roger would have a ménage a trois in his future; but instead, probably more realistically, Virginia decides she can’t handle the sexual tension anymore. She hops the train and starts walking toward the creepy ruined monastery in the distance that the conductor told her was the closest thing to civilization for miles around.

The engineer’s argument with his son (who stokes the engine) over whether to stop and get her back, and his insistence that she’s as good as dead, does not bode well for Virginia. Neither does the place itself. The ruins have this real sinister vibe; and even though this is supposed to be a monastery, those aren’t Christian crosses on the graves, they’re Egyptian ankhs. Nevertheless, figuring she doesn’t have much of a choice, Virginia settles in.

That night, as darkness falls and Virginia is bedding down, a mysterious bell rings. That is the signal for those strangely marked graves to open up and their inhabitants to emerge. Said inhabitants are hideous, skeletal figures dressed in the remains of medieval knight armor. They home in on the sound of Virginia’s radio and attack. It quickly becomes apparent that they move fairly aimlessly; until Virginia screams. Whenever she does that, they automatically become more focused. Somehow, Virginia manages to escape the room and steal one of their horses. Unfortunately, they prove to be much better equestrians. The skeletal knights knock Virginia off her horse and descend on her en mass.

At the end of the weekend, Betty and Roger are a little worried about not having heard from Virginia. They ask the hotel staff about Berzano, the ruins they last saw Virginia headed towards; but all they are able to learn is that the locals are terrified of the place, believing it to be haunted by some evil, and that the hotel staff aren’t supposed to talk about it. However, they rent some horses and ride out to the ruins. It’s not a good sign when the horses run off in terror. Once there, Betty and Roger discover Virginia’s things, and two police officers. Virginia’s body was discovered a little way from the railroad tracks, drained of blood and covered in bite marks. Human bite marks. The cops take the couple back to town for questioning, and to identify the body.

When Betty returns to work at the small mannequin factory that she owns, she learns a little bit more about Berzano from her assistant, Nina (Veronica Llimera), who grew up in a nearby village. Nina explains that the place was owned by the Knights Templar, and that they are supposed to haunt the place after nightfall. However, the full story is learned when Betty and Roger consult Professor Candal (Francisco Sanz) a noted medieval historian.

Professor Candal explains that the Knights Templar came back from the Holy Lands with, among other things, knowledge of a blood ritual that granted immortality. They terrorized the area for a while, but the locals finally had enough of their virgins disappearing and rose up. The Templers were executed for heresy and strung up where the birds could peck out their eyes. Unfortunately, their immortality ritual worked, and so they continue to haunt the region in search of blood to keep on living.

After this is explained, a cop appears to tell the professor that his son, Pedro (Jose Thelman, credited as Joseph Thelman) has become a suspect in Virginia’s death. He leads a group of smugglers in the area, and the cop’s suspect that stunts like Virginia’s murder are performed to scare people away. Our couple seeks Pedro out, and determine that odious human being though he might be, he isn’t a killer. They convince him and his girlfriend, Maria (Maria Silva), to join them on an expedition to see what really happens at Berzano at night. That night, Virginia’s body rises from the slab, kills the morgue attendant, and then heads over to Bette’s factory (which happens to be right next door to the morgue) to stalk Nina. Meanwhile, our little expedition is on hand to witness the Templers rise from their graves…

The Review: Tombs of the Blind Dead was among my very first real introductions to the eurohorror of the 1970s. I had read about it online, and was eager to see it for myself. I will admit that at my first view, I really wasn’t sure what I thought of it. By that time I had seen plenty of American style horror movies, and this was something very different. While a bit more streamlined and coherent than its brethren, Tombs still tends to work more on style and atmosphere than it does on plot or characters. That can turn viewers of the more conventional, Hollywood-style movies off; and judging by his reaction I know it has at least one friend I loaned my copy to.

First of all, if you’re used to the near constant adrenalin fueled jump-scares Hollywood uses in all its recent movies, then Tombs is going to feel really slow for you. It creeps along and builds up to its few big scares. Also, while there is blood, there is none of the elaborate gore most people associate with horror these days.

Likewise, the plot, as in so many films of this subgenre, tends to be full of holes you could drive a semi through. Getting the characters over to Berzano often takes having them act in blatantly stupid ways. Okay, the first time around Virginia is definitely upset, and strong emotion prompts everyone to do really stupid things sometimes. When Betty and Roger arrive for the first time they have legitimate reason; they’re worried about Virginia, they feel guilty about their part in her turmoil, and as of yet they have no real reason to suspect there’s anything wrong out there. However, the final trip out to the Berzano for the movie’s climax, really? Your friend died in a truly horrible way, so that even if you don’t actually believe the stories about the undead Templers, you know for sure that something awful has happened there; and you’re still going out there at night without any real backup or telling anybody where you’ve gone? And to top it off, you’re doing it with a man you’ve just met, but who you know is a criminal.

That last part leads to the movie’s most tasteless and objectionable scene. In short, Pedro talks Betty into taking a walk with him, and then comes on to her. When she tells him she’s a lesbian, he rapes her. Firstly there’s just the horrible crassness of the setup; I’m firmly of the opinion that if the only way you can think of to show some bare boobs in your movie is to shoehorn in a rape scene, you really have a problem. However, on top of that I’ve seen several of Amondo de Ossorio’s movies, and this is not the only one of them that features the theme of lesbians being raped by men. Obviously, the guy had some major issues. Fortunately, it’s a very small part of the movie.

The final major plot issue in Tombs that I’d like to address is Virginia’s resurrection. Based on the back-story we’re given, it really doesn’t make much sense. Also, it only comes up in Virginia’s case, and is never addressed again. I’ve read some other web reviews that have summed up the issue by addressing it from the Templers’ point of view: “So, I spent all this time and effort learning the secrets of immortality, and lost my sight in the process, and now everybody I bite is equally immortal? What a rip-off!”

Where Tombs of the Blind Dead does work, however, is in the horror scenes themselves. Despite all its flaws, Tombs ultimately works, like the majority of the best eurohorror, as the triumph of style over substance. The ruined castle used for Berzano, for example is a great place to start. Europe is full of abandoned castles, and as such European directors, particularly low budget ones, have often utilized them as set pieces. As I believe I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, the atmosphere of these places is such that even the most incompetent of moviemakers seem unable to completely take away from them. However, Ossorio displays a talent for aptly employing the inherent creepiness of the ruins. The camera shots of Berzano convey to the viewers that this is, indeed, a very bad place for mere mortals.

Likewise, the soundtrack is amazingly effective. The background theme is a deceptively simple Gregorian chant, played at an unsettling tone, and interspaced with screams. Along with that are Ossorio’s use of sound effects throughout; the doleful tolling of the unseen bell that announces the Templers’ rise from their graves, the clack of the train on the tracks, to name but two examples.

The scene where Virginia stalks Nina at the mannequin factory, while problematic plot-wise, is extremely effective in and of itself. First of all, early on Betty’s factory is established as an unsettling place. First of all, there’s just something unsettling about mannequins and their resemblance to living people (or dismembered body parts as the case may be); and Ossorio takes full advantage of that. On top of it, the lighting is established to be screwy; early on Betty explains to Roger that on the floor above is a place that makes and tests neon signs. The actual stalking sequence is very well done, and combined with the unsettling location it produces a scene straight out of a nightmare.

But the most effective element of the movie is the blind Templers themselves. First of all they just look nightmarish; they’re basically rotting skeletons, with just enough skin to retain the remains of facial hair, dressed in rotting chainmail and moldering cloaks. The way they move is also disturbing; a slow, shuffling gait, but one with a definite intelligent menace. On top of that is their obvious blindness; and how any noise, even the smallest, causes them to descend upon the source with a determined and obvious purpose. Even the scenes where they’re riding horseback, though shot in slow motion, come across as disturbingly majestic.

And the Templers don’t just look terrifying, either. Watching them in action, it’s clear just how outmatched the human characters are. Even their most glaring weakness, their blindness, is shown to not be a major hurdle for them. After all, what good is being still and quiet when they can still hear the beating of your terror-stricken heart? And the climax and denouement, where this horror that’s been festering in an out of the way location for so long is inadvertently brought back to civilization; it’s something that really sticks in your mind.

So in conclusion, Tombs of the Blind Dead is nothing like the Hollywood horror films you’re probably used to. Also, it does have its flaws. However, overall, there is a reason many people consider it a classic of the genre.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Curse of the Undead (1959)

The Movie: In a town in the Old West, there is some strange sickness going around that has already killed several girls. Dr. John Carter (John Hoyt) has been doing his best to save the victims, but thus far to no avail. However, Preacher Dan Young (Eric Fleming) has spent the night praying over her, and it looks like that’s done the trick. Then again, the family seems to have celebrated too soon. As soon as everyone leaves the room, the girl screams, and everyone runs back in to find her dead. Dan notices the window open and the window shade flapping. When he kneels down to pray over her body, he also notices two small, bleeding puncture wounds in her throat.

Dan and Dr. Carter head back to Doc Carter’s home and two children; Tim (Jimmy Murphy) and Dolores (Kathleen Crowley), who we later find out is also Dan’s girlfriend. There they have to deal with the latest results of Doc Carter’s other major problem. The Doc’s ranch is next door to a wealthy man named Buffer (Bruce Gordon). Buffer, entrepreneuring capitalist that he is, wants Doc Carter’s land and has been harassing him and his family in various ways to drive them off it. It doesn’t help matters that Tim is a hot-headed teenager who feels he has something to prove. Doc heads back into town to discuss it with the local Sheriff (Edward Binns), but the Sheriff isn’t able to do much. Worse, as Doc is riding home a black-clad figure attacks him, bites his throat and drinks his blood.

When the buckboard arrives home with their father’s corpse, Tim and Dolores are beside themselves with grief. Convinced Buffer did it; Tim gets drunk and goes to the local bar to confront him. The Sheriff tries to intervene, and Buffer even tries to walk away, but nothing will stand in the way of the hot-headed youth. When Tim pulls his pistol on Buffer, Buffer shoots him down. Dolores is now doubly upset; and despite Dan and the Sheriff’s attempts to talk her down, reacts to this latest outrage by putting up posters offering “$100 for the death of a murderer”. A mysterious, black-clad gunslinger takes an interest in the posters.

Buffer finds out how much trouble he’s in when he runs into said gunslinger, one Drake Robey (Michael Pate), at the saloon. Robey tells Buffer, very confidently, that he will kill him if he takes the job. When one of Buffer’s goons pulls his gun on Robey, Robey casually shoots it out of his hand even though the goon shot first. The goon protests to Buffer that he shot Robey dead center, but Buffer doesn’t believe it. After all, no man could survive a gunshot that close, and Robey was obviously very much still alive.

Dan and the Sheriff both try to convince Dolores that Robey is bad news and she should get rid of him. However, Dan discovers that Robey’s an even bigger problem while going through Doc Carter’s papers for her. He finds the journal of the man who sold the land to Carter; one Don Miguel Robles (Edward Colmans). Don Robles writes about how his son, Drago, came back from a long business trip to Madrid to find that his new bride, Isabella (Jeanna Cross) had taken up an affair with his brother, Roberto. In a fit of rage Drago killed Roberto; but was overcome with guilt and eventually wound up committing suicide on his brother’s grave. Soon after, many of the local girls, including Isabella, became afflicted by a strange ailment. Hearing Isabella’s scream one night, Don Robles rushed to her room and found her dead. Standing over her was an evil fiend who had once been Drago. Don Robles tried to put Drago to rest once and for all, but just wound up driving him into hiding.

Now Dan knows that he’s got a vampire on his hands, but Dolores refuses to believe him. More and more she’s falling under Robey’s influence, and growing weaker as he feeds on her. Worse, Robey is well aware that Dan is on to him. But how can Dan defeat a monster who shrugs off bullets?

The Review: I first watched Curse of the Undead in college, when I found it among the movies at the local town library. I looked to rewatch it ever since, but unfortunately it never seems to have been released on DVD. Now, about a year ago I discovered a website called Trash Palace that does DVD-R transfers of rare, hard to find and out of print movies. My first purchases were a pair of obscure French movies I’d been seeking for a long time. Admittedly, they weren’t quite what I was after; what Trash Palace had were the American releases, which meant English dubbing instead of French with subtitles. However, overall they did a good job, and I highly recommend them if you’re looking for something and haven’t been able to find it through the more mainstream sources. Anyway, a few weeks back I was looking through their catalogue; and imagine my surprise and delight when I found that this little gem was being offered.

Curse of the Undead is a movie that employs two familiar sets of tropes; western and gothic horror. However, it is not afraid to play with those tropes and do something different with them. For example, on the horror side, the vampire himself is a far cry from the example set by Bela Lugosi. Now, for those of you who don’t know who Bela Lugosi was (and shame on you if that’s the case), he played Dracula in the 1930s Universal Pictures movie of that name, and pretty much established the public image of the vampire. The long capes, the goofy accents, mirrors, death by daylight, coffins, turning into a bat or a wolf, all of it goes back to Lugosi. Now, I’m aware that these days we’re seeing a new generation who hears “vampire” and thinks sparkly, centuries old cradle robbers and majorly unhealthy relationships that are somehow supposed to be romantic. However, for the sake of this review I’m going to pretend that we live in a better world that was never submitted to Stephanie Meyer’s vision of the genre.

Anyway, Drake Robey is far more akin to the vampires of traditional European folklore than he is to Dracula. For example, his condition comes from his committing suicide, and there’s no indication that he can spread it to anyone else. There have been many cultures, particularly in Catholic Europe, who believed that suicide was such a horrible sin that those who committed it would return to plague the living. In fact, people were burying suicides at crossroads as late as the 19th century to keep them from coming back. Robey’s evil is linked entirely to that unforgivable sin he committed. There are even some indications that he doesn’t like his condition and isn’t truly evil by nature. However, that one act has driven him beyond the pale.

As for lesser tropes, daylight doesn’t seem to be a huge issue for Robey. He’s obviously much stronger at night, and tends to stick to the shadows, but he can walk around at high noon just fine. He does seem to need some coffin time, every so often he holes up in Doc Carter’s coffin, but it only appears to be every once in a while. The cross does have an effect on Robey, but that is tied to the body of folklore he comes out of. Finally, he can be destroyed by a wooden stake through the heart, but that isn’t how it’s eventually done.

I find the character of Dan equally interesting. He is decent, honest, brave and upright; but what else would you expect of a western hero from this era? He’s also devout, but somehow I don’t find any of that as cloying or unrealistic as I otherwise might. Somehow, the scene of him making out with his girlfriend established him as human for me. Likewise, he does have his doubts. In all, I found him a likable character and was cheering him on.

From the horror end, I found one trope that the movie diverged from interesting. In these vampire stories you usually have two particular types among the heroes. One is a Van Helsing type; usually an older man who knows all about vampire lore and who spurs the rest of the heroes on to fight the monster. The other is the dashing young hero who stands at the front, usually the true love of the heroine the vampire has designs on. Dan fits into both categories. On the one hand, he’s the one who first notices the signs and puts all the pieces together to figure out he’s up against a vampire. On the other, he’s also the one who carries the fight to Robey. And, I might add, it’s also his girlfriend who Dan is fighting for.

That’s it for the horror tropes. The western ones are just as interesting. For one, everybody seems determined to try and stay on the right side of the law. Dan never decides that his fight with Robey supersedes the law, and he’s one of the two major individuals trying to talk Dolores down from taking revenge on Buffer. Buffer himself visibly makes an effort to stay on the right side of the sheriff, and he only shoots Time when the boy pulls his gun. Even Robey provokes Buffer into drawing before he shoots, so that he can then legally claim self defense. In fact, only Tim, the hotheaded teenager, and ostensibly one of the good guys, lives by the philosophy of shoot first and shoot often that we tend to associate with western settings.

Curse of the Undead may move kind of slow for the adrenalin junkies of this generation, but I think it does a good job of building up its plot and establishing its characters. There are a few effective scenes; my favorite being an incredibly creepy one where Robey stalks Dan through the town streets at night. And finally, when Dan defeats Robey at the end, it’s in a way that I, for one, think is rather ingenious; and yet it flows organically from both genres.

In conclusion, I think that Curse of the Undead is a fun, well done little movie that shakes up the tropes of both genres that it covers. I, personally, think that it’s a mortal sin that it’s so hard to get a hold of. If you like westerns, horror, or just clever takes on familiar tropes, this one’s worth a watch if you can find it.